The 1951-52 WHS hoops team to be honored

Published 8:26 pm Wednesday, September 14, 2011

They are a remarkable group of athletes that not only had the brawn but the brains to beat their competitors. The 1951-52 Washington boys basketball team was not just a collection of athletes that would make it all the way to the state semifinals, but a group of players that would go on to become influential people outside of the lines.

The group typifies what the Washington Walk of Fame is all about, and on Friday during halftime of the Pam Pack’s football game against Jacksonville, the 1951-52 basketball team will be forever remembered as it will be inducted into the Walk of Fame along with Evelyn Ewing, Marquin Hill and Mark Gray. On the court, the team was led by the late Dick Cherry, an all-state selection in both football and basketball.

Cherry would go on to attend East Carolina University where he was inducted into the ECU Sports Hall of Fame. Joining Cherry on the 1951-52 roster was Edgar Woolard, Bobby Hackler, John Hoyt, Bobby Smith, Josh Tayloe, John Gray Blount, Bobby Rhodes, Pickney Young, Wayne Woolard, Bobby Garris and Doug Mercer. The team was coached by the late Bill Sweel, while the late Billy Jones was the team manager.

Wayne Woolard, who declined a football scholarship from UNC to play football at ECU, said he was excited that he and the team could be linked with other Pam Pack immortals.

“It’s quite an honor,” said Woolard, who would later work in the Dept. of Defense. “That same year we had an undefeated football team and that was inducted into the Walk of Fame years ago … After such a long period of time I think it’s great that they recognized that these boys could play basketball also.”

That they could, as they won a conference title and a regional title before stunning the No. 1 ranked team in the state in the playoffs.

“We made it all the way to the state finals,” Woolard said. “We upset the No. 1 seed (Tri-City), then we celebrated a little too much and lost to the No. 4 seed the next night. … When we upset the No. 1 seed, that was the greatest moment, nobody could believe that happened.” Woolard said what made the team so special was its ability to close out games. “I would say the characteristics of the team was that they all played very hard, practiced very hard and had a keen sense about how to win,” Woolard said.

With a coach like Sweel, the Pam Pack was always prepared for their opponent. “He knew the game and he knew how it was supposed to be played,” Woolard said. “He’d give you a good game plan and all we had to do was follow it … He was quite a coach and strategist.”

Aside from having a top-notch coach, the 1951-52 team had all the right ingredients for success. “We had a good defensive team, but we also had two or three boys that could shoot,” Woolard said. “In fact, Ed Woolard, who became the CEO of DuPont Corporation, set a record (at the state finals) by hitting 90 percent of his shots from the floor in his first game.

“He would be able to put on a dribbling exhibition that I don’t think most high schools had seen at that time. He would start at the top of the key and do all that dipsy-doodle with the ball down by his knees. He was a great ball player. “Dick Cherry was a great shooter. He had a great set shot and could shoot from the left or the right of the key. If the three-pointer had been available at that time there’s no telling what his scoring record would have been.”

While all those players shined on the court, their success would extend way beyond it. Bobby Hackler graduated from UNC and became a surgeon, John Hoyt attended UNC as well, and became a banker, Bobby Smith, a Duke graduate, would practice law in Raleigh, and Josh Tayloe and John Gray Blount both attend UNC and are both retired physicians. Bobby Rhodes retired after getting involved in local business and real estate, Bobby Garris retired from USPS, Pickney Young played football for the Pirates and graduated from both ECU and UNC and is a retired dentist, and Doug Mercer, an ECU graduate, would become a City Council member.